Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Good Night’s Sleep in France

Happy Resident at Maison Zen

You may have read about the connection between sleep and weight management.  I believe it!  I’m experiencing the cumulative effects of lack of sleep.  I’m off my stride and I know it.  My usual resolve to get about four hours of physical activity a week has vanished.  Last Tuesday evening was the annual  “Fête de la Musique” celebrated all across France.  In Aix the atmosphere felt like a Mardi Gras.   Carousing continued until about two AM and the garbage trucks scrapped up the empty bottles of wine and liquor from the streets at five in the morning, an unwelcome wake up call.

Maison Zen, Paris 2011
 When we arrived in Paris on Wednesday we finally got some quiet sleep.  We stayed in Studio 5 at the MaisonZen, a Zen Buddhist Center located in a quiet courtyard for five peaceful nights.  What a find!  Six of us chanted and meditated in the Dharma room on Saturday night (an hour for each).  A tranquil experience plus more sore leg muscles. 

Tip from this experience:  When booking lodging ask about the noise level and request a room facing an inner courtyard if you’re renting in a city.  How did I forget this?

Yours in health and joy,


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Paris, A City For Walking, Biking, and Celebrating

Biking on the Boulevard de la Bastille

There are many reasons to love Paris (the food not so much this trip).  The areas of the city we’ve visited on this short five day visit are well built for walking and biking with wide sidewalks, paths, and two way bike lanes even on main boulevards.  Have you ever seen bikes for rent along the street by the hour?  We noticed Parisians making good use of all these amenities. 

Gay Pride Parade
We took advantage of how easy it is to get around on foot yesterday.  In the morning my husband Jake took a 30 minute run along the path at the Boulevard de la Bastille that he discovered when he looked for a good place to run.  I walked the same route a bit later and enjoyed snapping photos of fellow travelers. 

Building Near Rue Mouffetard
Midday, we walked to the Luxembourg Gardens from the Bastille, a good long walk.  We became entangled along the way in a huge Gay Pride Parade that snaked around the city.  We could see the Luxemburg Gardens just across the street yet the way was blocked by the boisterous parade that was full of celebration and protest against discrimination.  Instead we wound our way to the Rue Mouffetard in the Latin Quarter for a late lunch of salad and pizza.  Tous les jours (every day) we are reminded that Paris is a city of love.

Musicians in Paris Subway Station
Thank god Jake remembered the Ibuprofen we took for sore leg muscles. 

Today is another day.  We went to the Luxemburg Gardens, St. Sulpice Church for an organ concert, and to the Cluny Museum for a concert of medieval troubadour music (the music of love).  Everywhere people are playing music for tips.  The famous French Joie de vivre is in full force.

Do you know of cities in the US that are pedestrian friendly and make it easy to get around on foot or by bike? 

Mother and Son Skipping Together
Man using Bike Lane on Blvd de la Bastille

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A French Perspective on Lifestyle Changes in France

Christina Pontet selecting cheese at the Marché 

On Wednesday we met Christina Pontet in St. Maximin Ste. Baume, a village near the Côte d’Azur. We sipped coffee at a local café and then walked through the largest outdoor Marché (market) I’ve ever seen.  We accompanied her as she led us to numerous stalls of tantalizing foods where she bought fresh fish, oysters, zucchini, new potatoes, goat cheese, and cherries for a lunch that she prepared for us that day.  

Selling Fish at the Marche

Christina likes to buy foods from people who are local to St. Maximin.  She also noted that the red mullet she selected had been caught the night before or that morning near Marseille. 

On the day of our arrival in France, I had inquired whether Christina, the proprietor of our apartment in Aix-en-Provence, was interested in being interviewed for the Whole Mind Wellness blog.  I had asked Christina to talk with me about changes in France that have led to increasing rates in overweight and obesity, and happily she agreed.  To our delight, she also generously asked us to her home for lunch. 
The garden at Christina's home
Christina prepares zucchini with herbs
After shopping at the Marché we arrived at “La maison” located on a quiet hillside.  What a paradise! There we met Christina's family including her husband Frédéric, son Adrien, and Frédéric’s mother.  Adrien took us on a stroll through the garden along narrow wooded paths filled with trees and herbs while Christina began preparing our lunch.  

Christina says that she cooks simple Mediterranean foods with herbs, olive oil, and lots of garlic.    We enjoyed the family’s company over a scrumptious “déjeuner” (lunch).  Christina suggested that we eat our fish over a grilled baguette spread with a pimento tapenade.  What a marvelous idea!  We completed the meal with rounds of goat cheese and sweet cherries for dessert.   

Our talk turned to the trends of increasing overweight and obesity occurring in developed countries including France.  Her concern is that much of the change in eating habits may be from the quality of the food that people put in their bodies. Christina mentioned that there is a saying in French, "Dis-mois ce que tu manges et je te dirai qui tu es" that means, "Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you who you are."

Christina observed that the lifestyle habits of the US have taken hold in France especially in the cities and with a younger generation of persons 15 to 35 years.  They no longer have time for a full meal at lunch with their families.  The well known two hour French lunch has been replaced by grabbing a sandwich over a 30-40 minute break. 

Also, people in French cities especially come home from work at night too tired to cook as in the US.  So, they eat industrial food heated in the microwave for dinner and then watch television or get on the computer.  Christina observed that this is a passive life of, “I exist. I buy. I consume.”   A change in this trend will require people to make their own decisions rather than going along with the current lifestyle in France.  She believes that making choices requires active awareness and reflection on the available options along with exposure to a variety of people and perspectives. 

Christina noted that we have more leisure time than ever before and yet we feel more rushed.  Her parents worked longer hours, yet didn’t feel as hurried as we do because they led a much simpler life. 

Her observations raise the question:  “Is a passive life that gives us more of everything necessarily better?  What alternatives can you suggest?

Lunch with Christina and her family 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Provence: Food to Die For, History to Learn From, Art to Live By

Cantaloupes at the market, AIX, 2011
Food to die for and truly made with love! We’re luxuriating in the tastes of Provence from a divinely sweet cantaloupe at breakfast to a delicately spiced Lamb Tagine with prunes served with couscous that we ate last evening at the Le Riad, Restaurant Marocaine (Morrocan).  Did I mention that we’re dining late and going to bed after midnight to fight lack of sleep caused by street noise?  We decided that if you can’t beat’em, join em.  I also may have forgotten to mention the chocolate raspberry mousse cake we shared after lunch.  Do I really expect not to gain weight?

Now for an excursion and a little history.  On Wednesday my husband Jake drove us to Avignon on our maiden voyage outside of Aix-en-Provence in our rented Citroen Picasso.  An hour later, we made our way to the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes). 

What can we learn from the history of the 14th century Popes in Avignon?   One thing for sure is that excess isn’t a recent American invention.  The most striking part of history was omitted from the audio guide at the palace.  The description of the papal court in the South of France, Cadogan Guide riveted me more than the spacious papal rooms.  The authors described the papal court as, “a vortex of mischief that ruled Avignon for centuries, trailing violence, corruption, and debauchery in its wake.”  Hmm, that certainly covers a lot of ground. 

The Palais de Papes, Avignon, 2011
Oh yes, and then there’s the description of the gorging—not a modern invention either.  For Clement VI’s coronation banquet the cooks prepared food for 3,000 guests that was served in the Grand Tinel banquet hall.  The guests were fed, “1023 sheep, 118 cattle, 101 calves, 914 kids, 60 pigs, 10, 471 hens, 1,446 geese, 300 pike, topped off by 46,856 cheeses, and 50,000 tarts.”  Shees!  Did you think they made enough food?  Apparently the Papal treasury, housed behind 10 foot thick Angel’s Tower walls and the (now called) Jesus Hall, amply supported such lavish feasts.

Grand Regret, Cieslewicz, L'Exposition Ponts, 2011

Trompe l'oeil window, Avignon, 2011
The Great Audience Hall houses the très moderne “L’Exposition Ponts” through June 30th.  Exhibit creators selected the theme of Bridges for the modern art exhibit, no doubt in honor of the city’s famous Le Pont Bridge that stretches half way across the Rhone River.  The fascinating art collection and quote by Isaac Newton left us with words to live by.  “Les homes construisent trop de murs et pas assez de ponts. ”  Translation:  “Men construct too many walls and not enough bridges.”  We ended our art adventure outside the walls of the palace.  Avignon playfully winked at us as we strolled and encountered a three story building with trompe l’œil window murals that deceived us with their three dimensional optical illusions.  I ended our excursion with an hour’s walk to and from Le Pont Bridge for a remarkable view of the river and the palace while Jake sipped a glass of red wine.     
Le Pont Bridge, Avignon 2011

What an outing!

What is your advice about how to enjoy food while on vacation without gaining weight?

Yours in joy and health, Kay

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fish for Dinner?

Fish at the marché Place Richelme
You’ve probably heard that we should all be eating more seafood including fish, right?  I’m all for it, especially if the seafood is fresh and wild.  The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 suggest we “Increase the amount and variety of seafood we eat in place of some meat and poultry.”

Here we are at Le Château Restaurant overlooking the inlet at the Calanque Sormiou  that is close to Marseille yet a world apart from the urban sprawl.  We're slowly savoring a dinner of just caught local sea bass that tastes so sweet that we may just as well skip dessert. 

A hike along the Calanques west of Marseille is worth considering if you're looking for a good long trek.  What are Calanques you ask?  These rocky limestone cliffs with footpaths lead to isolated beach coves of the intensely blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.  We found the steep and narrow road to the Calanque de Sormiou daunting yet truly magnifique!   The pit in my stomach finally eased after we paid the 4 euro parking fee and stepped out of the car to take pictures and check out the local scene.

Fish preparation tip:  A simple way I like to cook a meaty fish is to marinate it with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and then broil.  A fish like salmon comes out so juicy this way.  Just test the texture a few times to make sure that it is done yet moist.  

What ideas do you have to share with us for delicious ways to prepare seafood? 

Yours in joy and health!


P.S. The marchés in Aix sell fresh seafood each morning (see photo above)

Le Château Restaurant Sea Bass

Calanque de Sormiou

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Arriving in Aix-en-Provence: Quality Foods Mean Eating Less

Camille Fabre selling bread at the Marché
Saturday morning we reached Aix and made our way to our cozy apartment  in the center of the bustling town.  Christina, our proprietor, happily introduced us to our new lodging and all of its amenities. 

We’re a 5 minute walk from the Cours Mirabeau, the main boulevard in Aix that was originally created in 1649 for horse-drawn coaches.  How I love its beautiful fountains!  Notre quartier (our neighborhood) is teaming with restaurants and épiceries (small groceries). 

We ate our first meal of lamb chops and grilled tomatoes dusted with les herbes de Provence for lunch at a tiny restaurant, Le Piston, one that Christina recommended.  In the evening, we nibbled on whole grain bread with sunflower seeds dipped in olive oil, fresh strawberries, and cherry tomatoes for “le diner.”  All were full flavored and delectable.  I’ve missed the authentic tastes and sights of France.  

We got soaked during a heavy downpour as we returned from our first food shopping at the Monoprix supermarket.  The thunder and rains continued and rolled on sporadically through Sunday. I’m glad Christina cautioned us about the Saturday night revelries in the streets below that go on until the wee hours of the weekend mornings.  Thankfully we brought earplugs from our Air France flight.

A first exploration in Aix on a cloudy Sunday morning brought me to the Place Richelme, the site of the daily produce market.  I live for the French marchés (markets)!  As you can see from the photo above, Camille sold me whole grain breads, cheese, and some ham.  There is nothing like the flavor of these whole grain breads of pain complet and pain de seigle (rye with nuts). 

The experience at the Marché reminds me that when we buy quality foods with real taste, it means eating less and with gusto.  I made salad last night with the largest fresh figs I’ve ever seen (from the marché of course).  I added fresh greens, strawberries, and tomatoes along with balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil for a salad that was so good that I ate a second helping as dessert.  Really!

A plus tard (until later),

Yours in joy and health!



Saturday, June 4, 2011

Day 2 in Provence: How to Stay Physically Active on Vacation

Colin Milner, Buenos Aires

Chris Berger in Dallas, ACSM Conference Dallas, 2011
Together, let’s explore what it takes to stay fit while making the most of your vacation.   This advice comes just as I contemplate how to meet my personal challenge of not gaining weight while vacationing in Provence, France.

I spoke to fitness experts Colin Milner and Chris Berger who agreed to share their secrets for staying active while on vacation. 

Colin Milner is the CEO of the National Council on Active Aging, an organization dedicated to changing the way we age.  Chris Berger from the George Washington University, chairs the Healthy Air Travel Task Force of the American College of Sports Medicine.   

Q:  How did you get involved with physical activity, and what kinds of physical activity do you enjoy most?
Colin:  My goal growing up was to become a professional soccer player. I trained extensively. On my 21st birthday I went to Jamaica to celebrate. Three months and 20 lbs later, I had a problem, with soccer trials just around the corner.  I joined a health club to shed the weight, and was offered a part time job as a weight training instructor. Thirty years later I am still in the field, doing what I love to do, changing people's lives.  My personal preferences have always been strength training, walking, and playing soccer. 

Chris:  I’m an exercise physiologist who always wanted to be a commercial pilot.  I knew I would need to be in good shape to pass FAA physicals so that is how my interest got started as a kid.  I like going to the gym, running, swimming, and everything else.  It is not just a task on a list I have to check daily.

Q:  How do you do prepare ahead of time?

Colin:  If I am doing a family trip I will take my kids on training walks so they get used to what is going to be coming at them.  Let's say we’re going to be climbing the Great Wall of China, we will do extensive hill training. 

Chris:  I know that travel schedules mess me up so I am not hard on myself if I miss a day here or there.  Travel gives me an opportunity to try a new gym (most sell day passes), swim in a new pool, or run a new route.  I never travel without a swimsuit, goggles, running shoes, or other workout attire. 

Q:  What advice can you give us for enjoying physical activity on vacation?

Colin:   Know where you want to go and plan your route so you can see if there are any challenges.  What we like to do is to take a “hop on hop off” bus the first day in a new city, noticing what will be of most interest.  Then set up walking or cycling routes to these areas.  Always ask if there are certain neighborhoods that you should avoid. Many cities have bike routes, ask about this and use them.

You can get a great workout climbing the stairs of Notre Dame or the Bastille in Paris, the Great Wall of China or Shelly Road in Hong Kong.  This will give you a very different appreciation for these tourist destinations. Another tip is to always have water, snacks, and know where the restrooms are located.

Chris:  Most U.S. cities are pretty good for walking.  If you add a 10 lb backpack with a camera, water bottle, and map, you have basic physical activity right there just seeing some of your destinations.  For the more ardent exerciser, check parks department Web sites for cities, states, and federal parks for everything from kayaking to hiking.  Many of the large-chain gyms in the U.S. will let you buy a day/week pass for use while you are in town. 

Q:  What advice do you have for families with children or people 50 plus?

Colin:  The main tip is preparation. Know where you are going, and how you will get there.  Example:  are there any issues you may face, based on your abilities?   Stay in locations that are central, and that have easy access to transit, dining, medical services, and destinations.
Also, always be aware of the weather. If you are going out for the day and the temperature is 90˚F be sure you are prepared and take breaks from the sun.  It really comes down to the basics.  As an example, if you are walking all day be sure you have good shoes, insoles, padded socks, and if need a second set of socks, along with a mini kit for blisters.

Chris:  Leave young children at home with somebody you know and trust.  They get nothing out of travel and will stress you out the entire time.   
Just remember that some of the movements you make may involve muscle patterns you do not normally use.  It can be tricky to safely remove a suitcase from an overhead bin on an airplane.  If your upper body strength is limited, get somebody to help you.  People often get hurt when movements are novel.  

Q:  Anything else we should consider?

Colin:  The most important thing is to experience and enjoy your trip. Being an active traveler will enable you to do this much better that being a bystander.

Chris: Take it easy on yourself.  If you miss a day here or there, it will not immediately de-condition you.  Take travel as an opportunity to do something new with exercise and recharge your batteries. 

Q:  What resources do you suggest?

I would buy two books. The first on the city you are visiting. Study it. Know it. This will save a lot of heartache.   I also would by a book on how to address the small, frustrating health issues that potentially will happen.  Examples are blisters, upset stomach, etc.

Chris:  The Aerospace Medical Association has some great resources for flyers: http://www.asma.org/publications/index.php and the American College of Sports Medicine site is also loaded with exercise tips and good information for the general public: http://www.acsm.org/Content/NavigationMenu/ResourcesFor/GeneralPublic/ACSM_Public_Informat.htm

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Day Zero Countdown to Provence: See You Soon In France

Picture this meal in Provence

Tonight my husband Jake and I board an Air France flight from Washington, DC bound for Paris and then on to Marseilles.  Saturday morning when we arrive, we’ll hoist enough luggage for a three month stay onto a shuttle bus to Aix-en-Provence. 

Forty minutes later we’ll meet Christina, the friendly English-speaking owner of our one bedroom apartment.  As always on our trips to France, we’ll speak as much French as we can muster, but it's reassuring that we have a sympathetic English speaker nearby.  I can’t wait to see our apartment in the center of one of the most beautiful small cities in France.
If you haven’t yet visited southern France, you may be wondering, where is Aix-en-Provence?  Aix is a jewel of southern France that isn't far from the seaside village of Cassis (of black currant liquor fame) and the Mediterranean Sea.  As a university town, Aix boasts one of the most beautiful boulevards in France, the Cours Mirabeau, lined with stately plane trees and plentiful side-walk cafes.    Not surprisingly the cuisine features fresh seafood and delicious local produce.  Watch a short video if you’re curious about the lovely Aix.  Months ago, I found just the lodging we desired by going to the Aix tourism Web site which showcases a treasure trove of information about what to do and where to stay in Aix.

Provence makes up a large swathe of land that stretches from Orange in the northwest to the Italian border in the east and includes the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera).  Provence is known for lavender fields and other flowers, wines, gorges, produce, and stunning countryside, and seascapes.  Take a look at a map and you can’t help but notice the many choices Provence has to offer from the old papal palace at Avignon to large cities like Nice. 

The trip is sure to be full of the tantalizing tastes of Provence.  Les Florets Hotel and Restaurant immediately comes to mind.  They served us our most memorable and sumptuous meal in a garden located in the wine country in Gigondas (Côte de Rhone appellation wines).

Remember that I promised you that I’d report back about whether I gain, maintain, or lose weight during the trip?  Rest assured I weighed myself today, will do so upon my return, and let you know how I fared.  Some of you may know about my deep love for chocolate and cheese, so let’s see if I’m up to the challenge of maintaining my current weight. 

I have a trick or two up my sleeve including my secret weapon.  As a lifetime member of Weightwatchers I record what I eat and my physical activity on most days—a quick way for me to stay accountable.  I’m at my goal weight now; what about when I return from France?  Btw, thanks for helping me stay on track.  Reporting back to you is a big incentive to follow through on good intentions!

A bientôt!  (See you soon)

Yours in joy and health!


Gorges du Verdon